Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich evoke Honest Abe with unique debate format

Published: Monday, Dec. 12 2011 8:06 a.m. MST

In this file photo taken Oct. 28, 2011, Jon M. Huntsman Jr. shakes hands with his father Jon M. Huntsman Sr. during the dedication of the Huntsman Cancer Institute's new state-of-the-art $100 million expansion in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News archives

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A little-known former Congressman named Abraham Lincoln ran against incumbent Sen. Stephen Douglas in 1858, and the two men subsequently engaged in a series of seven epic debates across their home state of Illinois. Although Lincoln would lose that senate race to Douglas, the notoriety of the Lincoln-Douglas debates catalyzed Honest Abe's successful bid for president in 1860.

Jon Huntsman Jr. and GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich will stage a one-on-one, Lincoln-Douglas debate Monday in New Hampshire — and by hearkening back to yesteryear both men seek to break Mitt Romney's stranglehold on Republican support in the Granite State.

Huntsman's campaign website indicates the debate will be "on foreign policy and national security." It will begin at 2 p.m. MST and can be steamed online at or viewed on television when C-SPAN rebroadcasts the event at 6 p.m. MST.

In anticipation of the Huntsman-Gingrich faceoff, the BBC summarizes for its British audience what motivates the Huntsman-Gingrich foray into a Lincoln-Douglas debate.

"Mr. Gingrich … wants to showcase his knowledge and public policy experience. Mr. Huntsman, former governor of Utah, has long experience in government and the private sector, and is eager for the exposure. … And both hope strong performances will drain support from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the frontrunner in the upcoming New Hampshire primary election."

CNN released new polling last week that shows Gingrich (26 percent) and Huntsman (8 percent) are running second and fourth, respectively, among GOP presidential candidates in New Hampshire. Despite falling behind Gingrich in critical early battleground states such Iowa, South Carolina and Florida, Mitt Romney continues leading the pack in the Granite State with 35 percent.

The Bedford (N.H.) Patch reported over the weekend that plans for the Huntsman-Gingrich debate nearly fizzled.

"After a roller coaster of negotiations put a debate between Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich in jeopardy, the event is officially back on — in a brand new location. The presidential candidates are moving out of Windham to hold their Dec. 12 Lincoln-Douglas debate at St. Anselm's College in Manchester. The two candidates previously had confirmed for a debate at Windham High School."

Newsweek columnist John Avlon wrote an op-ed piece Monday for urging the Republican Party to "give Huntsman another look."

"Jon Huntsman is putting all his chips on New Hampshire, where he's been inching forward in the polls. Unlike the Iowa caucus, it's a state with an open primary where independents can vote and a principled center-right perspective might be rewarded. Tonight he will get a chance to shine in a Lincoln-Douglas style debate with Gingrich in New Hampshire. It might prove to be a highlight of the 2012 campaign — a substantive and civil debate about ideas, providing more light than heat."

EMAIL: jaskar@desnews.com

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